Woodland Park Zoo Scolded By Friends of Elephants

Zoo: Don’t all elephants have herpes?

A California-based animal-rights group named In Defense of Animals recently released its "Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants" list for 2008, and Woodland Park Zoo is tied with Washington, D.C.'s National Zoo for seventh place. To blame, says IDA, are the zoo's efforts to breed 30-year-old Chai and 33-year-old Shanthi in defiance of herpes and age-related pregnancy complication risks. Chai, who miscarried last June, also recently lost her 6-year-old daughter, Hansa, to Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus, a virus that can cause massive and fatal hemorrhaging. Zoo public-relations manager Gigi Allianic says the list "is part of a national campaign to remove elephants from zoos. We provide [our elephants] with excellent nutrition, exercise, veterinary care, and enrichment. Woodland Park Zoo is dedicated to keeping elephants from becoming extinct. Conservation and education are the reasons we care for elephants in zoos." Of the pregnancies, she says, "Elephants have a higher chance of a successful birth before age 25. In the wild, elephants can breed successfully into their 40s and 50s, and we believe that is the case for our Asian elephant, Chai, age 30. There is no data available on higher risk of birth complications for older elephants." As for the herpes risks, Allianic says that the experts the zoo works with say that virtually every elephant carries the virus, and it's unclear why some show symptoms and others don't.

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